Crime scene photographs True Orthodox Church Ukraine



Crime scene photographs True Orthodox Church Ukraine


In 1945, the police raided an underground monastery of True Orthodox Christians (TOC). It was located in a vault under a private house in the town of Chuguev, near Kharkov, Ukraine. As a result, nine believers (most of them nuns and monks) were arrested with hieromonk Seraphim (Shevtsov) amongst them. All religious artefacts belonging to the community were confiscated and most of them were later destroyed. The photographs presented in this entry were taken during the raid and were later attached to a NKGB criminal file as incriminating evidence.
The images portray confiscated church property at the same time inscribing an arrestee, father Seraphim, into the “crime scene”. The first photograph shows father Seraphim surrounded by church utensils, antiminses and icons found by the police in the underground church. In the second photograph, he sits with confiscated valuables and a clock. The last image shows the right side of the underground church, with a part of the altar and Seraphim’s bed.
Hieromonk Seraphim (1875 – 1955) was a long-term leader of underground churches and monasteries of the True Orthodox Christians in the Kharkov region, northeast Ukraine. For several decades, Seraphim was the focus of close attention from the Soviet secret services, as he was seemingly the only catacomb priest in the region. A special secret operation called “Christoduls”, which continued after Seraphim’s death, targeted his clandestine communities of believers.
As a young boy, aged 15, Daniil Shevtsov was tonsured a monk (adopting the name Seraphim) in Sviatohirsk monastery, a major Orthodox Christian monastery in eastern Ukraine. He continued his religious career as a deacon of the metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), who later fled with the White Army, and together with other bishops in exile he founded an independent church structure called Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
Seraphim was among thousands of other monks who were left homeless when their monasteries were closed down by the Bolsheviks. Soon after his monastery was turned into the Renovated (Obnovlencheskaya) church (a movement within the Russian Orthodox Church, sponsored by the Bolsheviks and loyal to Soviet power) Seraphim went underground and joined the catacomb True Orthodox movement. He received his first 5-year sentence in 1934, and was deported to the North of Russia from where he escaped and illegally returned to Ukraine in 1937. Until the date of his arrest on 11th July 1945, he hid in different underground monasteries and churches near the city of Kharkov. Living literary underground, he led catacomb True Orthodox communities (numbering altogether around 2000 believers) in northeast Ukraine and southern parts of Russia. During the WWII, when Ukraine was occupied by the German army and many religious communities were granted relative freedom, Seraphim started to preach openly. For this, of course, he was later accused of collaboration with the Nazis.
After his arrest in 1945, Seraphim was sentenced to 7 years in labour camps. He was released in 1952 and went into hiding again, continuing his “illegal” activities. In the following years, the secret police were busy searching for him, trying to recruit informers from his circle and raiding newly revealed underground churches and home communities. They did not know that Seraphim had died and was secretly buried in one of the underground monasteries in 1955 . According to the recollections of Seraphim’s followers, the secret police eventually discovered Seraphim’s grave and exhumed his body in order to prevent a growing pilgrimage movement. The body was unspoiled and the coffin emitted a fragrance of such strength that the policemen complained that a whole bottle of perfume had been poured inside.
The Ukrainian secret police targeted the catacomb True Orthodox Church (TOC) throughout the entire Soviet period. The same year Seraphim was arrested, the secret police launched a centralized all-Ukrainian operation called “Hermitage" (Skit), to uncover the growing underground networks of True Orthodox communities. In 1947, the secret police reported the results of the two-year operation: 367 TOC members arrested; 4 underground monasteries, 10 underground churches and 25 “illegal” praying houses disclosed (SBU archive, f. 3, spr. 300, p. 113-114).

The images come from the State Archive Branch of the Security Services of Ukraine, fond 6, sprava 75976, SBU Archive (Kiev, Ukraine). The two-volume file contains interrogation protocols, formal notes on the police search and confiscation with a detailed list of confiscated religious items and valuables, a closing indictment and the final sentence as well as other photographs of the underground monastery.

For related entries see:


Communism and religion
Communism--Europe, Eastern--History--20th century
Secret police (secret service)
Material culture--Religious aspects
Religion and politics--Europe
Religious groups
Christian sects--Soviet Union
Communism and culture--Soviet Union
Evidence photographs
Informal (Economics)
Vernacular architecture


Tatiana Vagramenko


Галузевий державний архів Служби безпеки України
ГДА СБУ ф. 6, спр. 75976


This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme No . 677355
The research for this entry was funded by Irish Research Council, GOIPD/2017/764




Copyright for these images belongs to the State Archive Branch of the Security Services of Ukraine








SBU Archive, f. 6, spr. 75976


Soviet Union
20th Century

Bibliographic Citation

Tatiana Vagramenko, "Crime scene photographs True Orthodox Church Ukraine"

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